Blackwell’s, Edinburgh – 20th February 2015.
For those unfamiliar, Samantha Shannon is the talented author behind The Bone Season and its sequel, The Mime Order, which was released last month. The supernatural dystopian series, set in 2059, follows Paige Mahoney, a dreamwalker as she is attacked, kidnapped and taken to Oxford, unveiling a secret that’s been thriving for 200 years. Only two deep into her seven book series, she’s already cultivated a strong readership through her world building approach.
At the moment, she has a skeletal structure of where the books will go – she knows the important events and where characters need to be at the end of each book. But Samantha leaves room to manoeuvre. “I like the sense of fun, discovery and not knowing. I let the characters lead me.”
What stands out about The Bone Season is that, despite being widely attributed to YA even with adult characters, there’s a blend of genres it draws from. “I’m trying to give a slightly different experience in every book,” Samantha explains, wanting readers to be without concrete expectations. The Bone Season is a thriller, where The Mime Order could fall into crime; the third, untitled installment is leaning towards being revolutionary.
Though Samantha has crafted her own world through Scion and the various states of clairvoyance, she drew a lot from mythology. Her research took her through spirits, the occult, everything related. “This is a mess!” she remembers, choosing to look at their similarities – mediums, those who deal with plants or mirrors – and tweak them into her own, more cohesive vision.
Within that, gender is tackled somewhat differently, and she finds the handling of that an important topic. Nick is a gay character, but ultimately, says Samantha, he’s just a character; his sexuality is not important other than the direct impact it has with his own relationships with certain characters. “Gay characters can be gay, but also just be characters,” she explains. She didn’t want a token character, nor did she want the stereotypical, angsty coming out scene; it’s archaic, and is often the fall back because straight is the default character mentality assumed. She didn’t want to react to stereotypes, but just create another normal, rich character.
Reason is what underpins all of her decisions in plot. She admits she does like the forbidden love trope, but with actual explanations other than the empty “You can’t love me!” declaration. When the beings are human and inhuman, immortal, there’s a genuine conflict they face, and that makes the trope work.
“I have a death list,” she says, when questioned about George R R Martin’s seeming bloodlust, “of characters!” All of her characters are on a provisional death list, though the main reason she sees for death is for the necessary development to other characters. There will be no needless blood shed.
It’s this reality within the realm of her own unreality that brings her world to life. “Cities are made of narrative. Every street has a story to tell,” explains Samantha. At times she brought the Victorian Era histories, now wiped from the map, back to life on her streets. Excitingly for us up north, her stay in Edinburgh is for inspiration as it will be one of the cities featured in the next book.
That historical influence shows itself in one of the nicest ideas of The Mime Order – one in which print publishing is important, the infiltration of pamphlets on society being able to assert change. It does, she adds, have a lot of publishing in-jokes.
Though it’s started off relatively local, in the south of England, her sights are global. While she loved The Hunger Games, she questioned – what is everyone else in the world doing? Where does the money come from for revolution, or funding a regime? What about the people? This is something Samantha looks to explore, although she admits there are some limits, not wanting, for example, to write about a part of the world without doing it justice, to have those living there find it unauthentic.
To close, Samantha is asked for three words, as vague as she likes, that could work as spoilers for the entire series.
Pain. Travel. Death.